Experiencing a hurricane is eye-opening and has a way of refocusing your life right before your eyes. When you live in the Caribbean you know that hurricanes are a factor. And in fact, every year we do”the drill” at least once. All the porch furniture comes in, shutters up, supplies purchased etc. It sucks days out of your life to do and undo the preparations and for many years now we have grown very comfortable doing the drill and then the storm passes and for the most part it’s not a big deal. Hurricane Irma was different. At first we said, “it’s going to go north, it’ll turn”. Then she still didn’t turn, so we started buying plywood for more shutters, just in case, and complaining about the cost. By Labor Day it became obvious that the storm would be major and we began bagging all our irreplaceable items in double Hefty trash bags. There is nothing like spending the day with your kid going through all your worldly possessions deciding what’s worthy of Hefty and what’s not to really make you focus on what is valuable in your world. In go the the baby books and wedding albums. Other novels and various items are left on the shelf…
Irma didn’t turn north, she barreled over the top of our beautiful island like the big bad wolf and destroyed homes, businesses and all that our community finds familiar in one fell swoop. Overwhelmed doesn’t begin to describe what the next morning felt like; there are simply no words to waking up and knowing that it’s not possible that people were not killed. The day after the storm was heartbreaking to see people walking down the road, looking, crying and wondering where to go or where their loved ones ended up. We were among the lucky ones, our family is fine; we are together, healthy, well cared for by friends and extended family. Our home is also ok, unbelievably fine. Our business was another story but that too will sort out and be OK again. We did not lose everything like many people we know did.
In the end, writing this now a little more than a month after Irma I can say that recovery will be a long process. We will be many months without power and good cell service and Wifi and all of those things that make modern life convenient and easy. Every day we have new challenges to solve but we solve them together, as a family and as a community. It is the “together” part that makes the experience cathartic. That is the value in this experience. We have been shaken out of our usual comfortable social circles. There are new, wonderful people in our lives; some we love have left, but we hope to see them again in better times. There is one hill in our neighborhood where we walk to get cell service each night as does the rest of the neighborhood. We are now talking with people every night whom we only ever exchanged a wave in the parking lot.
I’m not sure I can ever express how very thankful I am for all the friends and family who took care of us during and after Hurricanes Irma and Maria. It’s a new spirit of sharing in this time. Without calling them all out by name here I can say there is a special bond with people you spend hours in with in a windowless room playing the game called “What do you think that noise was?!” For the friends that got Megan and I over to Puerto Rico when we were so shellshocked, I am so grateful. For the overwhelming spirit in the community of reunion I am so grateful. We gave Megan (who is 13 and was born here on St. Thomas) the option to opt out and go to the states for the first half of the school year where life would be “normal” and she refused. She feels strongly that she needs to be an active part of the community and participate in the recovery, and that is the spirit that I see so much of around me. It will be a long road but we are a strong community and will rebuild better than ever. There are many meanings to being an island girl, some days it’s BBQ on the beach and others it’s scooping out the crab that washed into your shop with the tide… we’ll take it all.